Northern California prosecutors will again seek the death penalty for Scott Peterson in the slaying of his pregnant wife and unborn son nearly 19 years ago, even as a county judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror.
Stanislaus County Assistant District Attorney Dave Harris announced that it is prosecutors' intention to retry the penalty phase of the case, spokesman John Goold said after a court hearing. He said prosecutors otherwise won't comment or discuss the decision.
They made the announcement Friday, even as a Stanislaus County judge considers throwing out his underlying conviction because of a tainted juror. The California Supreme Court in August overturned Peterson’s 2005 death sentence in a case that attracted worldwide attention.
Peterson appeared remotely from San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco, home to the state’s death row.
"He's innocent — an innocent man's been sitting in jail for 15 years. It's time to get him out," attorney Pat Harris told reporters outside the courtroom in explaining why he is again taking the case. He also was on Peterson's original trial team alongside celebrity attorney Mark Geragos.
Janey Peterson, his sister-in-law, said the family is looking forward to his new day in court.
"We still need justice for Laci, Connor and Scott," she told reporters. "We don't have justice for Laci with Scott on death row, because Scott is innocent."
In another development to the case, Pat Harris came in as Peterson’s trial attorney at the hearing on Friday. Harris was involved in the original trial with Mark Geragos, a criminal defense attorney. The public defender’s office was relieved.
"Given the fact we learned, just now, that they are going to retry the penalty phase, I am not going forward with anything until I have a chance to talk to my client about what he wants to do with the next move," Harris said. "We should have been notified of this before the hearing. I should’ve had a change to talk to Mr. Peterson and we could have settled the issue today.”
Both of Scott Peterson’s attorney’s appeared, even though they represent him in different matters.
"It's been 15 long years, and as you can imagine there are ups and downs, but overall he was very happy that the court is basically taking a look at the motions, taking a look at the evidence, and has given him two separate chances here. So we're excited about that," Pat Harris said of Peterson's reaction to the high court's dual rulings.
Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his wife and the second-degree murder of their unborn son.
The California Supreme Court recently overturned the 2005 death sentence for Scott Peterson in the slaying of his pregnant wife. The Supreme Court said his death sentence could not stand because potential jurors were improperly dismissed from the jury pool after saying they personally disagreed with the death penalty but would be willing to follow the law and impose it.
In the second ruling, it ordered a San Mateo judge to decide whether the conviction itself must be overturned because one juror failed to disclose that she had sought a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. The juror said in seeking the order that she feared for her unborn child.
The San Mateo judge will have to decide if that was juror misconduct, and if so if it was so prejudicial that a new trial is warranted.
In 2004, he was convicted for the killing of Laci Peterson, 27, who was eight months pregnant with their unborn son, Connor. Investigators said that on Christmas Eve 2002, Peterson dumped the bodies from his fishing boat into San Francisco Bay, where they surfaced months later. Peterson was eventually arrested after Amber Frey, a massage therapist living in Fresno, told police that they had begun dating a month before his wife’s death, but that he had told her his wife was dead.
Peterson, who is now 47, contended on appeal that he couldn’t get a fair trial because of the massive publicity that followed, although the proceedings were moved nearly 90 miles (145 kilometers) away from his Central Valley home of Modesto to San Mateo County, south of San Francisco.
Despite throwing out the death penalty, the Supreme Court said there was considerable incriminating circumstantial evidence against Peterson, including that he researched ocean currents, bought a boat without telling anyone, and couldn't explain what type of fish he was trying to catch that day.
He also sold his wife's car, considered selling their house, and turned the baby nursery into a storage room before their bodies were found, the court said in August, all indicating that "he already knew Laci and Conner were never coming back."
The date for this retrial has been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, in Dept 6 of the Superior Court, and a limited time waiver to Nov. 6 was made by the defendant with his attorney's agreement.
California has not executed anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges, and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium on executions for as long as he is governor.
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Scott Peterson's death penalty rejected by California high court